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Finding Roger Federer Meltdown footage on YouTube is like finding a seat on the Number 4 Lexington Avenue subway at 9:30 in the morning. [Non-New Yorkers, take note: it's rare.] The Greatest of All Time usually deals with blown shots by dragging his middle finger across his forehead and tucking his hair behind his ear. Not this time. This was a semi-final match with Novak Djokovic at the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. Djokovic just broke Fed in the third and deciding set and was up 15-0 when the Greatest of All Time took his eyes off a routine approach shot that could have evened the score. Federer went through lots of racquets when he was playing the junior circuit; wonder if he felt a little wave of nostalgia upon banging this one hard into the court.

On the Sideline

Entries in Roger Federer (13)

Saturday
Apr192014

These Swiss Don't Miss: Federer, Wawrinka, in Monte Carlo Final

It's an all-Swiss final at the Monte-Carlo Rolex tournament on Sunday, with Stan Wawrinka going up against Roger Federer.  How convenient for the citizens of the Principality of Monaco that they share the same national colors of red and white with the Swiss!  Fans can don face paint for either player and not draw the ire of Prince Albert II.  

The Stanimal feasts on David Ferrer, 6-1, 7-6(3), to reach Monte-Carlo final. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

In a twist, it's Stan who enters the match as the top Swiss men's tennis player in the world, not Fed.  Wawrinka is ranked third in the world, behind Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and Fed is fourth.  Roger could elbow his Davis Cup teammate aside with a win tomorrow.

Federer defeats an injured Novak Djokovic, showcases his healthy wrists, in Monte-Carlo semifinal Saturday. Photo courtesy of USA Today.

Beside that bit of ranking friction, there are other story lines that recommend this match.  Fed has never won Monte-Carlo.  It, and Shanghai, are the only ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies that have eluded the Greatest of All Time.   He has come close.  He was runner-up to Rafa, King of Clay, three years running, from 2006 to 2008.  

While Federer has 22 Masters 1000 trophies to dust, Wawrinka has none.  He, too, has come close.  This is third Masters 1000 final (there was Rome in 2008 and Madrid last year).  Though he's a daunting 1-13 against Federer, Wawrinka has been having the year of his career.  He won his first Slam, the Australian Open, in January.  To get it, he had to shake off another losing streak by beating world number one Rafael Nadal for the first time in 12 matches.  A month earlier, Wawrinka snared the title in Chennai for a second time.  He is 19-3 since the start of the season.  As my husband often says as he stares at his cards at the blackjack tables, "he's due."

And if all of that isn't compelling, Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Moratoglou, likes the Monte-Carlo final because it's a one-fingered salute to all those teaching pros who are coaching their kids to hit two-handed backhands.

It was Wawrinka's backhand that demolished David Ferrer, 6-1, 7-6 (3) in their semifinal.  Stan avoided Ferrer's fierce forehand as much as possible, wearing him down through backhand-to-backhand duels.  He raced out to a 5-1 lead in the first set in under 30 minutes.   He reined in his unforced errors for the second set tiebreak quickly enough to get a 4-0 advantage early on Ferrer.  

"It was important to move well, be aggressive. That was my plan," said Stan.  At one point in the match, after handing his towel to a ball kid, Wawrinka crouched down on his haunches, sprang up, and did a series of football-player-running-through-the-tires steps  while waiting for Ferrer to serve.  I thought, uh oh, is he cramping? No. He was just reminding himself to move his feet.

Roger Federer reached the final by upsetting defending champ and wounded world number 2 Novak Djokovic, 7-5, 6-2.  Nole's been nursing a wrist injury all tournament long, but it didn't seem to hurt him until today.  He walked onto the court with his right forearm heavily bandaged and a heavy look on his face.

"It's unfortunate that when you're playing at this level against Roger, big tournament, that you are not able to play your game because something else is taking away all your energy and effort," Djokovic was quoted as saying in USA Today. "This injury has been present for last 10 days, and I tried not to think or talk about it. I did everything I could, really. I was on the medications every day, I was doing different therapies, injections." 

Djokovic said he's going to take some time away from tennis.

"I just rest now. I cannot play tennis for some time. How long, I don't know," Djokovic said. "I'm going to rest and see when it can heal 100 percent, then I will be back on the court."  His next scheduled stop on the tour is in Madrid, which starts May 4.  And the French Open is beckoning.  It starts May 25.  




Wednesday
Mar192014

Indian Wells: Obligatory Post About the Winners

The tennis world's attention has turned to the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, but I still have an hour before first round action begins to talk about Indian Wells. I love a deadline.

World number 2 Novak Djokovic takes home his third Indian Wells trophy. Photo, courtesy BNP Paribas Open.com.

Oops, I should have given you a spoiler alert.  That guy, pictured above, Novak Djokovic?  He won.

You want to see this kind of tennis in a championship final, the kind Djokovic and Roger Federer delivered at Indian Wells. Amazing get-out-of-jail free shots, powerful hitting, close games and a deciding set tiebreak between two well-matched opponents with a history, one that just got a lot more interesting.

Alright, you know already that Djokovic beat Fed, regrouping after failing to serve out the match at 5-4 in the third set, to gobble up the tiebreak for a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory at the BNP Paribas Open. What you may not know is that Nole is now 16-17 against Roger, making their match-ups more compelling than the much-vaunted rivalry between Fed and Rafael Nadal, where the discrepency is larger. Nadal has a 23-10 record against The Greatest of All Time, making Nadal more of a mountain to climb for Fed than a sparring partner.

These Worthy Opponents were so evenly matched in this final. Both had 6 aces. Federer double faulted 4 times, Djokovic, 5. Djoko won just one more point than Fed overall, 99 to 98. Wow.

What the numbers show is that Federer was pushed further during his service games than Djokovic was. Fed faced six break points, fighting them off 4 times, while Djokovic only stared down three break points, losing two of them.

One of those break points, of course, was the one at 0-40, 5-4 in the third, that let Fed back into the match. It was the second time Djokovic faltered when serving for it all. Two times, he was serving for the match against John Isner in the second set of their semifinal on Saturday.

Federer: "I have been on the winner's side more often. Maybe that softens the blow a little bit." Photo, courtesy of BNP Paribas Open.com."The way I won this title is something that makes me very happy and gives me mentally a lot of satisfaction because I have had specifically these three matches against [Marin] Cilic and yesterday's semi-final and today's final, situations where I played three sets where it was very tense, very emotional," said Djokovic.

"A few points really here and there could go either way, and then it went my way. I stayed mentally tough, and that, for me, is something that gives me a lot of encouragement and hopefully a confidence boost for the rest of the season."

Federer acknowledged his worthy opponent's victory over Tennis Hate.

"At the end he made sure he kept the ball in play and I might have made a few too many errors when it really mattered," said Fed. "But credit to him for toughening it out and winning that second set and getting the breaker in the third."

Federer said he's happy with how he played, after struggling with back problems and a drop in confidence last season.  

"A few weeks ago, months ago, a few people said I couldn't play tennis anymore," he sais of the haters.  "So for me, I need to focus on my own game, my own routines, hard work, make sure I keep a good schedule for myself, for my family, and, you know, enjoy it. But at the same time, that fire, wanting to win, is important, and right now I have that.  I think have a really good balance right now."

Haters, this sounds like a man on a mission.  Slam number 18 at Wimbledon, perhaps? The way he's been playing, I don't doubt it.  He's 19-3 this year, won Dubai, finaled in Brisbane and made the semis at the Australian Open.  His recovery from back problems and his embrace of a bigger racquet are working.  

The women's final between victor Flavia Pennetta and Aggie Radwanska was not as edge-of-your-seat satisfying. Radwanska, the number 2 seed, was injured, and Pennetta, seeded 20th, upset her easily, 6-2, 6-1. But the headline for I Hate Tennis is that the 32-year-old Pennetta almost quit tennis at this event a year ago.

Flavia Pennetta wins the biggest title of her career, moves to 12th in world. Photo, courtesy BNP Paribas Open.com.

"I think this one is after so many years so much work and everything, this is the moment I always waiting for, no?" she said. "Finally I have a good trophy in my hands."

Radwanska was super-bummed, and look at times on court like she was going to cry.  Haters, when it gets to tears, it's over.  I can think of players who smash racquets and shout at their box and then go on to win, like Ernests Gulbis or even Djokovic, who had such an outburst against John Isner in their three-set semi.  Anger can motivate you.  Sadness and fear just throw sand in your gas tank.

"I think it's just the worst thing for a player, you know, to not giving the 100%, especially in the final of the big event. And I just couldn't run as much as I normally do.  And, well, just bad luck," she said.

Could she rise above the Tennis Hate, and see some good things in her two-week run? A reporter at Radwanska's post-match press conference must've read my mind. 

Q.  Aga, is it the disappointment that you feel from having to be injured in the final?  I mean, this is still, you know, the first final that you have made here and a positive week.  Is it hard to focus on the positives, or right now do you just feel disappointment?

AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA:  Well, I think disappointing feeling always comes first, I think, especially when you really, really, you know, have ambition to win the tournament.  Of course still good two weeks.  First final here. Big event.  And, you know, still good result.  But it's always disappointing that, you know, I really couldn't play my 100% today.

In doubles, the world number 1 women's team, Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, won their first BNP Paribas Open title, beating doubles veteran Cara Black and Sania Mirza, who were seeded 5th.  Hsieh and Peng are now 11-0 in WTA doubles finals.  

On the men's side, world number 1s and top seeds Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan kept their men's doubles crown by beating second seeds Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares, 6-4, 6-3. It's the twins' 27th ATP Masters 1000 title and their 95th overall.  

I'll close this post with an observation: Bob and Mike are so twinned, even their wives look alike.  

The twins and their families celebrate title #95. Photo courtesy of BNP Pariibas Open.com.

Thursday
Jan232014

Australian Open: Nadal Advances to Final to Play Surging Stan

Rafael Nadal did what he usually does when he faces Roger Federer: he beat him.  And he did so fairly easily, too, in their Australian Open semifinal, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3. Nadal has now beaten Federer 9 times in their last 11 Grand Slam meet-ups, and owns a 23-10 record against the Greatest of All Time.  

Nadal gets the GOAT's goat. Photo: Aaron Favila/AP

Which again brings up the question: IS Federer the greatest of all time?  

Certainly, Rog has the record of most Grand Slam wins -- 17 -- and the  most consecutive weeks as Number One. But the 27-year-old Nadal, "in the meaty years of his career," as Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim put it, is just four Slam wins away from tying that record.  His career trajectory still seems on the rise, bad knees be damned, while the 32-year-old Fed's is trending downwards.

IS Federer the Greatest of All Time?

Federer has entered this season trying to shake things up, with a new, bigger racquet and a celebrity coach, 6-time Slam winner Stefan Edburg.  But the strategery was no match for Nadal.

"For nearly two weeks now, Federer had played like the Federer of old — but Nadal beat that Federer, too, for the most part," said The New York Times' Greg Bishop.

"I tried a few things," Federer said.  "I think Rafa does a good job of neutralizing you."

Check out Nadal the Neutralizer:

Nadal said it was his best match of the tournament. 

"I think I played great," Nadal said.  His only dissatisfaction with his level of play was on a point during the first set tiebreak.  Yes, Haters., just one point.  I can only dream.  

Here's how he analyzied the tiebreak:

In the deuce position I made second serve return with a backhand that I had mistake.  That is the only point I am not happy about the way that I played on the tiebreak.  With 5-1, I missed a forehand down the line but it was the right shot.  Missed it for just little bit.

It's a little window into Nadal's Tennis Love, how he learns from his mistakes.  He doesn't get into whining and self-flagellation, doesn't indulge -- at least, in front of reporters -- in self-pity.  IHis analysis was a dispassionate dissection of what was working and what wasn't.  He asked himself simply: Was it the right shot at the right time?  

Nadal plays for the championship against Federer's countryman, the now-best Swiss player on the tour, Stan Wawrinka.  He defeated Tomas Berdych, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in their semis.

It's Stan's first Grand Slam final, and he'll be unnerved, no matter what.  Stan is 0-12 against Nadal.  The blog Busted Racquet points out that Nadal has not lost a set against Wawrinka.  But Stan had lost to Novak Djokovic 14 times in a row before upsetting The Djoker in the quarters Wednesday night.  With the top seeds Djokovic, Serena, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka ousted during this year's Aussie Open, why not bet on Wawrinka beating Rafael Nadal?

"I didn't expect to make a final in a Grand Slam and now it's happening," Wawrinka said.  "I'm just really happy."

He's got another day to enjoy that feeling before looking across the net at Nadal.

Wednesday
Jan222014

Australian Open: Everything Old is New Again

Roger Federer is into the semifinals of the Australian Open, his 11th straight, edging past a gritty Andy Murray, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 in three hours and twenty minutes.  Credit his new, big racquet or his new coach, Stefan Edburg, but Federer is playing like his old self: confident, aggressive, controlled. No more mishits on his forehand, no cat-and-mouse chip returns.  He looks ready to add another Grand Slam title to the record 17 he already has.

He still has it in him. Now, can he find a way around Rafa? Photo, Ben Solomon, Tennis Australia.

It wasn't one of those "of course he's going to win" victories, as in those heydey years when he was world number one for a record 237 consecutive weeks.  The 32-year-old got his fans biting their nails when he failed to get rid of Murray in straight sets.  Fed squandered a 5-2 lead in the third set and a 6-4 one in the ensuing tiebreak.  

I thought, 'I'm still in the lead, not that bad.'" -- Federer

Murray showed remarkable heart, not like the 2010 Australian Open final against Fed, or the 2011 championship match at Melbourne Park versus Novak Djokovic, when the grumpy Scot played passive tennis.  This was Ivan Lendl-inspired Murray, the guy who made Djokovic earn the title last year in a 7-6(2), 6-7(3), 3-6, 2-6 victory.  This was US Open/Wimbledon champ Murray.  He stared down two match points and made the Mighty Fed blink.

"Andy did well, he put the pressure on me," Federer said in his on-court interview about letting Murray push him to a fourth set.  "I had no choice but to stay out there.

"I thought, 'I'm still in the lead, not that bad.'"

That's right, Haters, instead of thinking I suck, I blew it, he thought, I'm still winning.  

Andy Muttery. "I was proud of the way I fought." Photo: Ben Solomon, Tennis AustraliaThis is how my Worthy Opponent, on the court and in the home -- my beloved Mark -- thinks, and I hate him for it.  He'll volley a ball long, just out of the reach of my flailing racquet -- whew -- and say to his partner, "I was there!"  But for a few inches, he had me cold, and he'll make the necessary adjustments to get the winner next time.  And the subtext of the comment is, there will be a next time.  

That just burns me up.  What?!  Who are you to have your confidence grow with mistakes? That's not the way it works!  Nothing comes from mistakes except losses and heartache.  That's why they are called mistakes.

I find that spirit so hard to muster when I've let slip winning opportunities.  Instead of saying, I'll get it next time, I say, see, you're never going to make that shot.  From there, it's a hop, skip and a backhand into the net before I'm saying, I Hate Tennis and I'm taking up tiddlywinks.  

I think that by stating what is, to me, the obvious, I'll goad myself into trying harder.  It doesn't work, and never has.  What is it that they say about the definition of insanity?  It's doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Sign me up for the loony bin.  

Perhaps Andy Murray will join me.  He sounded like he thought he should have played his old way to get past Roger.

"I changed my tacktics a little bit, started playing a little bit more aggressive," he said.  Yes, yes, this all sounds good, the ESPN commentator in me says.  But Murray continued.

"That was maybe my undoing a little bit at the end, because I really started going for my shots to get myself back into the match.  Then, when I got broken in that fourth set, I went for three balls.  Maybe one or two of them weren't there to be hit."

Murray searched for his Silver Lining Playbook.  He reached the quarters in the Australian Open, his first Grand Slam since having back surgery a few months ago.  Back.  Surgery.

"I don't know how many players have come back from surgery and won the first Grand Slam back in their second tournament," he said.  "I just need to use this as, I guess, a steppingstone to getting better and be happy that I got through five matches."

Roger Federer, meanwhile, faces yet another hurdle in his tough draw: world number one Rafael Nadal, who's beaten him in their last four meetings and has a 22-10 record against Fed.  

 "I'm looking forward to it.  It's going to be brutal and all those things."

 

 

Sunday
Jan122014

Australian Open: Nadal Over Wawrinka, Li Over Azarenka

The Australian Open is about three hours away AS I TYPE.  Talk about Tennis Hate.  I'm hating 16 hour time zone differences and draw sheets.  I'm scrambling to submit mine by 7:00 PM Eastern Time for Tennis Channel's contest. Every day, at WNYC, I work under deadline pressure.  Why should my Sunday afternoons at home be any different? 

 

Serena Williams seems likely to pick up her 18th Grand Slam title, which would put her in the same company as Chris Evert and Martina Navratalova.  Yeah, she has to beat Victoria Azarenka, but she can do that.  She just did in Brisbane, and Williams' last take-down of Azarenka was for the US Open title in September.  It won't be easy, though.  Both of those matches were close, with Serena needing three sets to beat Vika at Flushing Meadows.

But there's Li Na lurking in the semifinal, to spoil it all for Serena.  Haters, you know how I love that.  If Li gets past Serena, she could see a rematch with Vika in the championship round.  Azarenka is going for her third consecutive Australian Open trophy.  

Li Na could upset the conventional narrative of this tournament in so many ways.  It would be awesome.

I want Li Na to beat Vika Azarenka in a go-for-broke three-set chamionship match.

What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: an early exit for 7th-seed Sara Errani, who suffers from Tennis Hate and doesn't think she belongs in the Top Ten.....an upset of Azarenka by young gun Sloane Stephens in the Round of 16, just like she last year to Williams in the quarters...a Kerber/Kvitova nailbiter in the Round of 16.....and, in third round action, Jersey girl Christina McHale besting 10th seed and former world number one Caroline Wozniaki, who's too distracted by plans for her upcoming wedding to Rory McIlroy.  

On the men's side, I'm actually predicting more unpredictability than on the women's half of the draw. Unconventional, I know.  I don't think Andy Murray is going to go very far.  He's recovering from back surgery. Philip Kohlschreiber can take him in the quarters, after he confounds John Isner, who will suffer a letdown from his skin-of-his-teeth 7-6(4), 7-6(7) victory over Yen-Hsun Lu (who?) in Auckland.

I'm making a sentimental pick, by-passing a world number one Rafael Nadal/world number 2 Novak Djokovic dream final, for a championship match between Nadal and 8th-seed Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

Stan will have to upset Djoko in the process.  He came close last year in the fourth round in Melbourne, leading at one point 6-1, 5-2 (ah, the Tennis Hate that ensued!).  It was one of the best matches of his life and in tennis. Stan's no longer languishing in the fading Federer's shadow.  He stepped up his game in 2013.  He climbed back into the top ten for the first time since May 2008 -- reaching his current spot of 8th in the world in July, a career best --  and collected his fourth ATP World Tour title at Oeiras, his first since 2011.  

So, payback time for Stan when he meets Djokovic in the quarters.  I think he can do it, and defeat Berdych, too, in the semis.  But he won't get Rafa.

What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: Ryan Harrison, losing his cool and busting some racquets over the shots of quicksilver trickster Gael Monfils in the first round....16th seed Kei Nishikori, newly empowered by advice from Hall of Famer Michael Chang, giving Nadal a scare in their fourth round match....the battle of the beautiful one-handed backhands in the fourth round between Wawrinka and 9th seed Richard Gasquet....a first-round battle of the old-timers, American Michael Russell and might-as-well-be-American Dmitry Tursunov (Russian, seeded 30th)....and how quickly the Greatest of All Time, Roger Federer, will get sent home to his pregnant wife and twin daughters.